March 11, 2021, marked one year since COVID was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Anthony Fauci himself recently admitted that during the early weeks and months of the crisis, the prospect of losing 530,000 American lives in a year would have dramatically exceeded his worst projections.
The most tragic aspects of the pandemic have not only been well-documented but have also taken a physical, emotional, and economic toll that has touched us all in some way. Back in March 2020, I was in the middle of writing my latest book, Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-Performing Teams, and wrote this in the Preface:
“The phrase ‘who you surround yourself with matters’ has never been more relevant, so avoiding a reference to the global health situation as part of this narrative wasn’t an option. In these times, we’ve discovered that social distancing is every bit an act of caring as a loving embrace, a tacit recognition that we’re all in this together, and that as one, we will do whatever it takes to weather this storm (and whatever else comes our way).
“While keeping our distance, we are touching one another in profound ways. We revere the courage of health care workers who, at great personal risk, are treating coronavirus patients and helping them return safely to their families. We agonize with them because they can’t save everyone, and we weep for them when they themselves become victims. Our hearts go out to seniors, who, as a highly at-risk population during this pandemic, have become increasingly isolated from society. We marvel at local restaurants and other small businesses and offer as much support as we can. As these businesses face their own struggles, they find ways to continue to serve their communities, whether it’s providing free meals to those in need or pivoting their operations to produce masks or other personal protective equipment for those on the front lines.
“While enjoying a newly energized love of family, working from home with screaming kids and barking dogs can take its toll on our cognitive and emotional stability. Yet when we need a mental break, we check out our favorite media resource, where human creativity abounds. It’s where we find our fellow citizens of the world singing from balconies to their neighbors, joining drive-by celebrations for a child’s birthday, or creating obstacle courses for their bored kids and stir-crazy parents. We participate in virtual happy hours with our friends, families, and coworkers, all while discovering new ways to work and play during these trying times.
“We mourn those who died and grieve with those who lost loved ones. When all of this is over (a new reality, notwithstanding), it will be up to us to reflect on this collective experience and remember what really matters. Going forward, let’s be kind to everyone we meet, seek to learn rather than judge, and focus on what truly gives our life meaning: each other. Together, with love and kindness in our hearts, anything is possible.”
How COVID Brought Us Together in Work
At least as I have come to see it, one of the great ironies is that it took pulling employees out of a central workplace to bring them together. COVID, of course, didn’t bring us together AT work, but it did pull us together IN work. As opposed to coming to a central workplace where everyone has their work hats on, so to speak. The use of video technology empowered us to invite people into our homes during a time of crisis. In addition to figuring out how to do our jobs to keep our jobs, employees were juggling everything from homeschooling their kids to worrying about their elderly parents. This shared circumstance allowed coworkers to see one another as whole people versus just fellow employees. Team members were becoming true teammates. As they shared their respective challenges, it inspired increased understanding, stronger cooperation, and a more profound recognition of our shared humanity. As a result, many teams began working together more efficiently and effectively.
Relating COVID to the Blizzard of ’78
Anyone who grew up in Massachusetts in the late 70s remembers the Blizzard of ’78. It was a storm that brought the Commonwealth to its knees, as everything shut down and no one, other than those working in essential services (police, fire, medical) could go to work. While this “shutdown” only lasted a week. It triggered the best in our nature as human beings. Since no one could drive, neighbors would come out of their homes, despite the cold, and engage with and serve their neighbors in the most charitable and friendly of ways. Before the storm, people who barely spoke to one another were shoveling driveways for those who could not, running errands for seniors who couldn’t walk a mile or two to a store, building elaborate “snowpersons,” and playing outdoor games together. Unfortunately, the generous spirit that prevailed over the course of that week melted with the snow. I always believed that it did not have to play out that way.
I hope beyond hope that the vaccine that eventually helps us kill COVID doesn’t also kill the same generous spirit we have enjoyed for the better part of a year. Maybe, because the pandemic has been with us for 52 weeks, rather than a single week, that we’ve injected each other with something more powerful and more sustainable. It may have taken a crisis that pulled us apart to bring us together, but we shouldn’t need another crisis to continue the good work we started. Remember, “Together, with love and kindness in our hearts, anything is possible.”
Written by Leo Bottary. His book “Peernovation” is featured on the CEOWORLD magazine’s best-books list. Have you read?
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